I’ve just finished a book, called Where’d You Go, Bernadette? It’s by Maria Semple, who used to write comedy for TV shows like SNL and Arrested Development. Now she’s writing novels.
Just as its creator crossed boundaries, so does the book. It’s an epistolary novel, a traditional form where the story is told through letters. Only it being two thousand and something, those letters take the form of emails, diary entries, formal letters and magazine articles.
At the back of the book, there’s a section that begins with this page.
In this section are a notes for discussion, a short interview with the writer, and suggestions for further reading.
I know this is pretty commonplace now. But it struck me: the book assimilates a vernacular style and written forms that most readers will be familiar with using themselves. It seems very appropriate therefore that the publisher, too, has assimilated new patterns of attention that have organically grown up around books.
Acknowledging reading groups is an interesting publishing innovation. It doesn’t necessarily add much to what a buyer is prepared to pay, I imagine. In fact, it only adds further value once the reader has finished the book.
But it accepts the reality that books can have a life for the reader beyond that moment. We lend and borrow them. They sit on shelves as mementoes of our cultural and imaginative life.
And, we join reading groups. As elsewhere, the life of a thing we consume is changing. It is extended. It is experienced in new formats. And that new experience which the thing inspired, is being incorporated into the thing itself.
It reminded me of something I haven’t seen much of yet, but have thought about trying out recently. Not with books, but with box sets.
We’re very used to DVD commentary incorporated into the experience, of course. But that’s less a new pattern of attention and more a technology-enabled value add. Supposedly.
And I keep thinking that some box sets would lend themselves brilliantly to the reading group format. The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Six Feet Under. Shows like this have already inspired blogs and the community that grows up around them. Even, in the case of The Wire, a book inspired by the blog.
Also, are there enough shows that warrant getting a group together? How it would work? Would you do one season at a time? But then, one person’s selection of material would lead to half a year of your life being taken over. It would take you three years just to get the five I’ve mentioned.
So, perhaps a small band of viewers meeting physically isn’t needed.
But then, maybe it is.
Maybe it would be amazing to really, properly watch them, just as a reading group asks you to really, properly read novels.
Maybe it’s already happening.
Everyone I know would love to watch at least one again. Just to see if they really are as rich as the novels that sometimes inspire them.
What do you think? Have you done it? How would it work?